Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lightness of Being

That's the phrase that comes into my head--the title of that movie:  "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".  Except that it isn't unbearable.  It's VERY bearable.

I want to write about this before I go to bed tonight so I can capture this feeling, the atmosphere that's in our house this evening.

My husband, a 25-year-veteran of the Indianapolis Public Schools, put in his papers for retirement today.  It wasn't a rash decision.  Or maybe it was.  It's something that's....been there...lurking for the past year or so.

Things have gotten worse and worse in the school system:  tighter and tighter requirements on attendance, documentation, curriculum.  The behavior of the students more unmanageable every year; every year, more and more not a place for a gentle, artistic man who values literacy, art, culture, decency to other human beings.  The school system, not as it was when we started, but as it is now--no place for him.  Dealing with the students, the administration, the impossible expectations, the no-win situations--have made him tense, disillusioned, constantly on edge, cynical, yelling at the kids, the dog; distraught over small things.  Jumping at the slightest sound; he wakens from nightmares of being trapped, in danger, lost, with a lingering sense of hopeless despair.

What to do? What to do?  Still so many financial obligations.

This year, this week, it came to a head.  IPS put out that it would put $20,000 towards a health insurance program to the first 150 eligible applicants to put in papers for retirement.  We talked about it over the weekend, read the paperwork together when it came through on Monday, and decided against it.  A hard decision that left us feeling weighted down and discouraged, so that when I departed from his school after our discussion, I drove around for awhile, just...absorbing the situation, preparing myself, steeling myself, for more of the same.

Then he had an encounter with his principal which belied the writing on the wall.  It was time.  He went down over lunch today and put in his papers.  He was 109 out of the 150.

So now, come what may.  There are part-time hourly jobs in our future, to be sure, penny-saving, cutting back measures on the horizon.  But the lightness of being that envelopes our house tonight is undeniable, almost tangible.  A great weight, an oppressive gloom, years of worries and concerns have been lifted from us.  We are no longer waiting for some nameless administrator to indiscriminately dismiss my husband.  We have acted on our own without waiting for the other shoe to fall.  It's almost as if, here in our 50s and 60s, we're starting over.  The world suddenly seems fresh and new and has opened itself up to us.  What is around the corner?  What is ahead?  Who knows?  But my husband, the one I married, the one I know during the summers, is back.  Chatty, talking, laughing.  I sat on his lap while we watched TV this evening.  The world is our oyster, and come what may, we're in it for the long run, and we're in it together.

Emergency Off son called my attention to the Emergency Off button located on the wall of the Wendy's restaurant in Huntington, Indiana.

"What do you think it stops?" he asked me.
"I don't know," I said.  We continued to discuss it for several more moments.  What did it stop?  And who pushed it?  Did it stop an order that was about to be mis-made?  Did it stop the cash register drawer from opening?  Did it turn off the lights, the grill, the sign?

We asked the girl who took our order.  "What does that button do?"
"I have no idea," she said.
"But don't you think you SHOULD know?" I asked?  "I mean, what if the manager is off, say, 'getting change for a hundred dollar bill' [which in fact, she was because that's what I had handed the girl, but that's what some doofus at the indoor garage sale decided to use to pay for John's double-cassette deck which was priced at $25....what kind of idiot goes to a garage sale with a hundred dollar bill???] and there's some kind of emergency that might have been prevented by pushing that button, and you don't know what it does?"
"That's a good point," she said.  "I'm going to ask my manager right now."

We sat down with our food and saw the girl asking someone who appeared to be on the cooking staff.  He shrugged his shoulders and turned to ask someone else, who apparently ALSO didn't know.  Soon there were five people standing around discussing the shiny, and attractive button.

Our waitress came out to clean off the tables and I gestured her over to us.   I asked her, "Did you ask your manager?"
"Not yet," she said.
"And now that you've noticed that button, don't you...want to push it?  I mean, there it is, all red and shiny...."
"No," she said, quite adamantly, "but I AM thinking about it...and wondering."

Charlie and I continued to discuss it.  "If only the manager knows what that button does, that could be a problem.  Maybe," he suggested, "it shuts off the ice machine.  Which could be a problem if the manager falls into the ice machine.  Someone would need to push that button immediately to shut off the machine before it starts serving cube-sized pieces of the manager."

We speculated some more and then I thought of something.  "Do you think it shuts down all the garbage mashers in the detention level?"
Charlie added, "Yes.  It shuts them ALL down."
The girl reappeared at our table.  "I asked her," she said.  "It turns off EVERYTHING in case there's a fire or something."  She seemed very proud of herself.
"That's great," I said, "and it's good that you know because now you can push it and be the hero."  She smiled.

But--here's my NEW question.  If it shuts off everything, does it also shut off the sprinklers?  The phones?  The alarm system?  It seems that there may be holes in this plan somewhere....

We also decided that an 'Emergency Off' button would be a perfect topic for the play we had just seen "Everthing I Need to Know About Life, I Learned in Kindergarten".  LIFE should have an 'emergency off' button, we decided.  And someone should wax poetic about it for another skit for that play....

In the meantime, I'll be checking the Wendy's in this area to see if they, too, have 'Emergency Off' buttons.  Emergency Off.  What a concept.